Recommendations for Beginners

Those of you who are completely new to the art have a distinct advantage—you don’t have to unlearn any of the B.S. that floats through the bonsai world all too often. Enjoy your Beginner’s Mind while you can.

First, get a book or two and try to absorb the most basic ideas. The book I like is by Yuji Yoshimura and Giovanna Halford, now called “The Art of Bonsai”. You can get it cheaply used thru Amazon— Unless you’re a collector, why not buy used books that you can beat up??. Note that it used to be called “The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes”— same book. The other great book is John Naka’s “Bonsai Techniques, Vols. 1&2”. These are wonderful books, but are relatively expensive, especially when autographed. If you’re working on the cheap, the Sunset and Ortho paper bounds are very decent, and are almost free on the used mkt. Remember that the club has an extensive library, which Burt quixotically brings to each regular meeting.

The internet is a vast mixed bag. I like a Brit named Graham Potter, who has numerous lessons on many topics. He works on especially good material, which will give you a sense of our main problem, which is the lack of good bonsai material UNLESS you are willing/able to collect. The other guy, who is a part of a New Wave of young hakajin who have been well-trained, is Ryan Neal. We will give you other suggestions as we go.

In terms of supplies, keep it simple at first, unless you are rolling in $$ and have a need to go ape-crap to disguise your insecurities. A decent pointed-nose trimmer, a wire cutter, and maybe a heavier pruning shears will get you going—all available at Wal-Mart. Check and see what the old fools are using at the workshop— we’ll spend some time this Sat on the subject.

Wire for training is important, and not many el cheapo alternatives are available, unless you are among those fine citizens of our State who steal copper, Years ago, copper was the standard, but in the 70’s, anodized aluminum almost totally replaced it. Annealed copper is still the best, but is a lot harder to work with unless you have King Kong hands. Many of us buy aluminum wire from Dallas Bonsai Gardens, who always seem to have the best prices. It’s a helluva lot cheaper in bulk, so maybe we’ll try to make a buy and share. I have a lot of wire, if you need some to do your workshop material.

Remember that most any woody trunked, small leaved material is usable as bonsai stock. Junipers are best to start, though some of you will want to use tropicals that you can keep indoors. I’m not a tropical fan, but the principles are about the same. We’ll teach you what to look for in material— a matter of primary importance.

In NM, it is of paramount significance that you work to provide an environment favorable to the cultivation of your trees. Just about everything that bonsai don’t like is the weather norm here— dry air, strong winds, intense sun, abrupt temperature change, lousy water, etc., etc., etc. If you are unable to negate most of these problems, you will lose interest and go back to your old hobby of psycho-active drugs. There are NO bonsai prodigies— everyone is a geek for a year-or-two, at least. But if you can’t keep plants alive and happy, you’ll have to settle for being a viewer/appreciator, rather than a participant.

—John

Fertilizer Basics

The 3 basic components of plant food are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. On all store-bought fertilizers, these 3 will be listed by the N-P-K ratios. Numerous other “trace elements” are blended with these. The compositions, strengths, frequencies of use, and seasonal timing provide yet more tempests-in-teapots for bonsaists to argue about.

Historical perspective: The use of organics is a very long-standing tradition for bonsai, in large part because commercial chemical production is a fairly recent invention. Nearly all old bonsai books advocate a mixture of organics blended together into a kind of dough and placed as small “cakes” on the surface of the pots. One of my earliest duties as a bonsai apprentice was to mix cottonseed meal, blood meal, and bone meal together, using ordinary baking flour as a binder, into a doughy,”earlobe texture” blend, then rolling it into long sausages and slicing it into little pucks. I would let these dry, then put one  puck into each corner of the bonsai pot.

There were several problems with this method. Generally, the bone meal as sold in bags was not really very water soluble. As the little cakes melted away, the bone would just lie there. Also, the blood meal was irresistibly attractive to dogs, mice, rats, squirrels, etc. A larger dog would pull pots off shelves to get at it, and smaller dogs would tear into bags and root around in it. If the cakes became rehydrated in the pots, they would soon become fly breeders of epic proportion. The relative ease of fish emulsion was a tempting substitute, or at least an alternating regime, and was/is widely used.

In recent years, commercial compositions have made huge inroads into the sacred organic methods. There are as many preferences as there are individuals. Some of us are high nitrogen advocates. Though this undoubtedly builds strength, it has several drawbacks. N encourages large, rank leaf growth, and long internodes (the length of the branch between leaves). As you veggie growers know, it will also hinder fruit and flower production. In Japan, it is also thought to make bonsai somewhat “course,” which essentially means lack of refined miniaturization on trunks and branches.

Many of us have been going over to high phosphorus blends. The first real advocate for this in the early 70’s was Warren Hill, whom some of you have met. He wrote an article in the yearly California Bonsai Society magazine called ” Phosphorus—The Key to Life and Beauty,” that influenced a lot of us. High P has long been advocated as a Fall food because it strengthens roots for the dormancy period. The iconoclastic Hill wondered why it shouldn’t be used all year.

Much voodoo surrounds the feeding process, which is far more straight-forward chemistry than we’d like to admit. The difference between the holy organics and Miracle Grow, etc. is probably not that significant. I have come to believe that seasonal timing is far more important than we realize here in the desert. Our growth cycles are heavily influenced by changes of light and temperature, and occur in a sort of punctuated equilibrium rather than in a slow, steady pace as in other climates. We get a dramatic, early spring flush, followed by a period of near dormancy during our hottest weather, then another flush as the trees anticipate fall.

I noticed today that my elms have suddenly come back to fast growth now that coolness is in the air. My new method, therefore, is to hit everything pretty hard in early spring with my beloved Tiger Bloom (2-8-4), in 7 day intervals or even more frequently. Then, from June through July I back off and let the trees consolidate their gains. In late August, I start cranking the food again to anticipate the fall, pre-dormancy flush. Some of you even feed through dormancy in reduced amounts, and I’m liking that idea better all the time. Getting those nutrients available before the growth actually begins seems important, as if the tree were pulling strength together for its big spurt.

—John

Bonsai Tools

If you are rolling in the dough, consider going to the top of the heap and buying the venerable Masakuni brand. You will need an 8″ branch cutter, an 8″ wire cutter, and #002 shears. The best source is direct from Japan at Bonsai Network Japan. Each tool is 8,800 yen, which means about $300 for all three, and they will last forever.

Don’t get involved in any “specially made” stuff, though Dr. Martin did go a little above the basic line and bought the coated Masakuni’s, which seem beautiful. There are a number of mid-range Japanese-made brands that are somewhat less, such as Kaneshin and Fujiyama (sold by Dallas Bonsai) that are very good.

My strong recommendation is that you go to Tian Bonsai either on Amazon or on Ebay, and if you can pony-up the $160, buy either set # JTTK-02, JTTK-04, or JTTK 05 (though you will have to add a shears to #5, which has all other cutters you will need for awhile).

If money’s tight, buy any or all of the basic three individuals: Master’s 8″ wire cutter@ $40.00; Master’s 8″ shears @ 38.00; and/or Master’s 8″ Branch cutter@ 38.00. I’d start with a shears, then wire cutter, then branch cutter. The reviews from our Clubbies have been good on these Tian’s, and the Amazon reviews are also good—with a couple of stupid exceptions. “Paul”at Tian is a great guy to deal with, and very fast shipper, as is “Maki-san” at Bonsai Network Japan, BTW.

—John

Masculine & Feminine Aspects Of Bonsai

Masculine Characteristics Of A Tree:

  1. Formality: Straight trunks, defined foliage outlines, more symmetrical branch balance
  2. Strength: Powerful rootage, nebari, thick trunk, heavy branches, coarser foliage
  3. Drama: Sharp, angular movement, dramatic direction changes of trunk line, pointed apex, sharp triangulation of foliage
  4. Appearance of great age: Rough bark, deadwood, dark colors of bark or foliage

Masculine Pots:

  1. Angular: Rectangles, squares, hexagons
  2. Formal: Straight walls, plain feet, no glaze, no decoration
  3. Strong: Straight lines, clean profiles, heavy textures
  4. Dark Colors: Earthtones, metallics

Feminine Characteristics Of A Tree:

  1. Informality: Graceful trunk movement, irreg. outline
  2. Gentleness: Rounded curves in trunk and branches, soft foliage, rounded masses
  3. Graceful: Thin trunk, fine rootage 7 BRANCHES, FLOWING LINES
  4. Youthful vigor: Smooth bark, no jin or shari, light color bark and/or foliage, flowers or fruit

Feminine Pots:

  1. Curved: Oval, round, lotus
  2. Informal: Curved walls, tapered outline,decorative designs
  3. Refined: Smooth textures, glazes
  4. Light Colors: Creams, pastels, blues, even brighter colors

Michael’s Soil Tips

Michael  is the owner and founder of the Los Lunas based Soil Secrets, and is a master of soil composition. Here are four surprising proclamations to consider:

  1. Liquid fish fertilizer is bad because of chemical additions used to make it “safe”
  2. Mushroom compost is bad because of its calcium-producing tendencies.
  3. Chemical acidifiers are bad because they create more salinity.
  4. Overusing compost is bad because it tends to boost PH.

There were numerous others which I don’t remember. I AM NOT suggesting that we immediately throw everything away and obey the gospel of St. Michael, and yet…  Michael magic potions are available from his nursery, as well as his potting soil for $7.00 a bag.

2012 Mother’s Day Show

With the spring winds, thoughts of bonsai fanciers in New Mexico turn to the annual Mother’s Day Show.  This year it will be May 12-13 at the Albuquerque Botanical Garden.  The “Ancient Art of Bonsai” show will wrap up the Rio Grande Botanic Garden’s spring indoor show season co-sponsored by the Albuquerque Bonsai Club. The bonsai show will be held in the Garden Showroom.

Members of the club will be show their best bonsai of different styles and species of trees. Local varieties such as Alligator Juniper, Mountain Mahogany, Piñon, Sage Brush and certain herbs work well in New Mexico for the culture of bonsai.

Questions will be answered enthusiastically by long-time members who are actively engaged in growing Bonsai. Morning and afternoon demonstrations will be performed and an educational table will be set up to show the stages of development in creating bonsai.The Bonsai Show is included with regular admission.

Call (505) 848-7148 for more information.

Most Photographed 2010

We have added a new award category to the Mother’s Day Show held on May 8-9. There was no contest that the bonsai most photographed during the two day Albuquerque Bonsai Club event was the Bald Cypress which stood in the patio at the entrance to the Show.

The effort that it took for John and George to style and then transport this eight hand planting was rewarded by the number of people who stopped to ask about it, took pictures of it and often asked others to take of pictures of them standing next to it.

It was a perfect introduction to the Show.

People Pick Lilac 2010

The overall winner of the People’s Choice Award for the Mother’s Day Show at the Botanic Garden is a Korean Lilac in full bloom. Out of more than 35 bonsai on display it was the favorite of most of the people who visited. A close second was a trident maple with a lot of attitude.

Thank you to all who visited the Show, voted for a tree and talked to us about them. It is a very labor intensive job to set up this Show, staff it and then take it down, return the trees to their permanent homes and store all our supplies and equipment for the next year.

We appreciate all who participate.

People’s Choice Winner – 5/8/10

The winner of the most popular bonsai awarded by our guests at the Botanic Garden show for Saturday, May 8 is – #16, the lilac that is in full bloom! People visiting the show enjoyed it’s display of color and were delighted by the scent as well. It was clear that most all the little girls who came through the show were big supporters of that particular bonsai.

Thanks to all who gave us their opinion and on Sunday, 5/9/10 we will see if it prevails again.